Nature in Art Residency and “Grain”

I am delighted to have been asked back for a weeks residency at Nature in Art this year at the magnificent Wallsworth Hall at Twigworth in Gloucestershire.

Wallsworth Hall

It’s a wonderful place “dedicated to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature” and I shall be there with bees, pigs, prints and drawings from 31 July to 6th August. I’m taking a small book press with me and will be printing some blocks while I am there. Do come along and say hello if you are close by.

Meanwhile I have to say it has been just too hot to do very much practical work, but one of the 4 or 5 projects I have on the go is one concerning “Grain”. I was looking for an experimental project to work on to explore some different bookbinding structures. Chris and I are both interested in heritage and sustainable foods and grain is just one of them. At about the same time an opportunity arose to spend a day at a working watermill with Mike and Becky Shaw at Golspie Mill in Sutherland. It was a really wonderful experience and many ideas and possibilities arose from that short visit too.. but I will write more fully of the visit in the next post.


Golspie Mill.

I started working on “Grain” before we went to Glospie, looking at some of the ancient grains, spelt, emmer, einkorn which are gathering popularity as well as rye, Orkney bere barley and oats along with milled peas and millet.“Grain” is a concertina structure which holds 8 prints based on 8 different grains/pulses. It is quite large, when fully opened as far as it can go its 1.5 meters ( or just over 5 foot.) The 10 panels are approx 34 x18 cms ( 7×13.5 inches). It  has a smaller concertina of woodcuts on the back which has 4 grain related farming scenes loosely based on the Lutrell Psalter.  I think all this needs another post explaining a bit more but meanwhile some snaps: I have realised I need a bigger house as I have nowhere to photograph this when fully opened!


Dummy, roughs and trials..

I made my own bookcloth and everything is handprinted.


View of the inside with some of the woodtype I used and a block.
The final spread.


One of the back panels … “ploughing”.


A  print from the woodcut of “sowing”….


The back.. “reaping” with a glimpse of “winnowing”  in the background. As everything was handprinted, the smell of the printing inks is just gorgeous when you open it! It is weighty too which makes it pleasing to hold. It was a complicated structure to put together, but served as a very useful experiment which I am going to develop further. There were many test pieces and problems but I have learnt an enormous amount. More detail on the prints and processes soon.

Early April Willow Sketches

Last week I had my first sketching walk of the year, not so much a walk as a stagger, but it was good just to get out in some almost warm sun. I went down to the nature reserve where they have been cutting back the willows. There is a curious look to the landscape. Fallen trees, half cut down trees, old pollards with new shoots and new pollards with nothing but stumps. The willows rise up out of swampy ground and there is an odd feeling of desolation, of a war torn landscape reminding me of some of Paul Nash’s bleak paintings. But here, rather than destruction, it is just life on hold, just waiting to get going again. In fact you have to admire willows for their vigour and ability to regenerate after even the most severe pruning. In the sun the stems glow yellow, purple and greeny brown. Some are almost orange. There were a few catkins here and there.

willows1bg     willows2bg 


pollarded 1bg     pollarded 2 bg

The stumps of newly pollarded trees and below the exuberant growth of whips from an old trunk.

willow branches bg

The old fallen willows are covered with an abundance of moss. In amongst the moss bracket fungi grow. Beautiful delicate things. I liked the shapes, the points of the fern fronds, the waved edges of the fungi and the random placement of twigs and one leaf.

moss sketch bg    moss bg

These were made a week ago on the 8th. I am sure things will have moved on by now. With more of a promise of Spring I will be out again very soon.

Willows: A Start. The whys and wherefores of a drawing

Starting with Willow I decided quite early on that I would make a start on the Residency with some work about the Willow Tree. Looking over my sketches from the summer the willows are so often there. It is an iconic tree of this currently sodden, watery area and they line the Reservoir.
There are local names for some varieties, the Bedford Willow, the Huntingdon Willow. They are everywhere and there are many different kinds. One book  notes 18 UK varieties.
I like to start things with drawing and research. The purpose of both are to get to know my subject. I can read and learn but I don’t think I really “see” unless I draw.

What is the purpose of drawing.. for me

Drawing, for me, is all about learning. Initially it’s about trying to record what I can see.  Accuracy at this stage is important to me because the more accurate I try to be, the more I must study the subject.
Through drawing I will learn about structure, line, colour and form, but most importantly I begin to discover what it is I like about something. And that is really important. My first exploratory drawings of the willows are just a few leaves.

I am still not out and about much but I brought some tatty old leaves back from my shoreline walk about a month ago. Once inside they dry out,  twist and form wonderfully curled shapes.


My drawing and models

My way of arranging them for drawing is to throw them onto white paper and see what happens. This works much better for me than carefully and deliberately arranging things. It is also the way my Filipino gardener friend Pedro, back in Leu Gardens,  plants seeds and bulbs. His handling of plants was one of great empathy, respect and understanding. He was well rewarded.


“ Three Willow Leaves”  pencil on hp paper, 10 x14 inches

So here is a drawing of the leaves. I loved the curling shape and the way the cast shadows tell of a shape you cannot see. The desiccated surface of the leaf makes the central vein more prominent and I could see the layers of the surface, some were peeling away.  Tiny bits broke off. These things are very brittle and fragile.

The hours it takes are all a part of the slow absorption of the information. It’s a very peaceful process and totally absorbing. It reminds me of my old “leaf of the day” drawings.  I will be doing quite a few more study drawings and some sketches and colour notes. There may be a lot about willows this coming year!

Update, Artist in Residence Blog, Exciting Things and a Favicon

I realised on Friday that a whole week had gone by without much drawing at all. But I did have a day in the garden and then my creative energies had to be channelled into writing, letters, adverts, proposals, workshop notes and updating my blog, adding some extra pages for workshops and creating a quick new blog for the Residency.

We also had two busy workshop days Workshops We had the most beautiful day at Barnesdale Gardens for the first Illustrated Garden Workshop and the most horrible freezing and foggy day for our first Easton Walled Gardens Workshop day. Luckily the Easton Painters are a sturdy and resolute group who turn out, have a laugh, produce great work and always make my day a real pleasure. Thank you to all participants.


Artist in Residence Grafham Water


A small pen illustration to accompany a piece about the residency

and adjusted to B/W for our village newsletter .

Meanwhile I have started my research and planning for the Artist in Residence year.

There are many different kinds of residency. Some you pay for (I have seen some lovely but very expensive ones recently), some will pay you (not many). I am self funding and wanted the local community and Anglian Water’s customers to rest easy, knowing that the company are not frittering away money on something so frivolous as Art!  So why do this you may ask? Mainly because we don’t have very much going on in the arts locally and I thought it was time there was more! Jackie has done a wonderful job in getting the Village Art group going, but we have no local art spaces, no wonderful barn workshop conversions, no galleries, no art shops or studio spaces. We are neither underprivileged enough to get funding or sufficiently privileged to have huge amounts of spare money around.  We are on the edge of 3 counties, just in Cambridgeshire but quite a long way from its artsy centre.

Of course one of the things  I love about this area is the very fact of its curious isolation, bypassed and tucked away as it is, but I also think it is such a beautiful area with so much potential that it could be used and enjoyed by more creative people.  So we have 5 workshops planned, exhibitions and a possible celebration for next Easter time which will combine my end of residency show and a project I am in the middle of developing which will be great if I can make it work! I have written a little about the Residency HERE at the other blog. I hope you will join me there to see what is happening.

The Exciting Things
..are the opportunities that are beginning to arise.

As part of the residency I will be able to learn so much more about what goes on at the Nature Reserve over at the West side of the Reservoir, where we will hold the workshops. It is managed by the Wildlife Trusts the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire branch who also look after the nearby Brampton Woods. They organise some great activities and there are some fascinating species hidden away.

Here is a link to a PDF about the Reserve

And our Easton Group show will be happening over August Bank Holiday from 21st to the 25th of August at Easton Walled Gardens. It’s a great opportunity to show our work at this lovely venue. …

and yes Pencil and Leaf Blog has a little bee  favicon (what else!) took a lot of time and bad language to make this tiny thing but it is rather sweet. So if you lose me in your tabs  look for the bee!


leonardo foot
Meanwhile the Foot is back under the knife tomorrow, the pin has slipped and is sticking into the joint. Yes, excruciating, but hopefully recovery not too long this time. This is not my foot but Leonardo’s drawing. I think mine is nicer.
Reading is lined up:  “Fludd”  ( more Hilary Mantel bliss) and “Edge of the Orison” by Iain Sinclair about the poet John Clare’s eighty mile trudge home after escaping from the Asylum. Sinclair will be describing a part of the UK I know well. His insights will be interesting.